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William E. Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
NAACP Board of Trustees
Baltimore, MD
May 15, 1998

Thank you, Julian.

I saw an article about Julian Bond recently that mentioned a photograph hanging in his study showing him as a "skinny two-year old in short pants" holding hands with W.E.B. DuBois.

I was impressed with that.

Because I've always been interested in DuBois -- at least since I was a kid and heard Richard Nixon was suspicious of anything with his name on it -- including The Boys Club of America.

Not exactly a modest man, DuBois.

One time, when he was congratulated on being the first Negro Ph.D from Harvard, he replied, "Believe me, the honor was entirely Harvard's."

Well, today, the honor is entirely mine.

For I am one of the millions of African-Americans who owe the opportunities I have had not just to the Civil Rights Movement but to this organization. To the NAACP.

You know, on Sunday, we celebrate the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

I was reading a little bit about it this week in Lerone Bennett's history of Black America. And I came across a quote from one of the intellectual leaders of the segregationists, after May 17, 1954.

He said southerners would be prepared to die rather than accept integration, to protect "the loveliest and purest of God's creatures, a well-bred, cultured Southern white woman or her blue-eyed, golden-haired little girl."

This man went to Yale, too. I read that and thought: I hope he was paying attention when I got my diploma.

Of course, we don't have to go back 44 years to praise the NAACP.

Last February, I was pleased when Kweisi Mfume announced that the NAACP would review the telecom industry.

I said then, that though at the FCC we foster competition and innovation, those aren't ends in themselves. We also have to build communities and advance the public interest.

That's what the NAACP did with your look at the hotel business: advance the public interest. And that's what you'll do with the telecom study.

After all, African-Americans spent almost $600 million on computers and related equipment last year. And almost $4 billion on consumer electronics. And $10 billion for telephone service.

You know, when Kweisi announced the telecom review, he said this:

"We are in the midst of an information economy and the future is upon us. Technology is being used to grow our economy...to generate new products and services...to bring high-wage...high-skilled jobs to our nation's workforce. Where does this leave African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and poor whites? We will be under-served unless we seize the opportunity."

From the vantage point of an FCC Chairman, it's clear that he was absolutely right.

The key to opportunity in the decades ahead lies in what's happening in my field. In telecommunications.

So today, I want to talk about opportunity. But first, I want to tell you a little about what shapes what I'm going to say.

I said before that I owe my job to the people who struggled to create equal opportunity in this country. I don't mean that in the abstract.

Two stories really say it all.

Story number one.

My grandfather, James Kennard, was a talented, literate man who worked as a railroad porter and janitor all his life. These were the best opportunities that were open to him.

He moved his family to California where there was no segregation -- officially. But in his town, there was a school for whites and a school for blacks.

The black school was miles away from his house. The white school was a few blocks away. And so when his son -- my father -- was about five years old James Kennard dressed the boy up and sent him off to the neighborhood school.

They sent my dad home. "You go to the Negro school," the principal said.

The next day, my grandfather dressed my dad up again -- and sent him to the white school. They sent dad home again.

"This is where you belong," my grandfather said. He took my dad back again. And finally, that principal got so worn down he said, "Okay. We'll take the Kennard boy."

My grandfather made a difference. And the education my father received resulted in education and opportunities for me.

Story number two.

During all the big events of the 60s -- the March on Washington, Selma, Little Rock -- there was a smaller one: the pressure put on one NBC affiliate in San Francisco to go out and hire more black people.

The station didn't want to do it.

They said no black people had been applying for jobs. But community activists in the Bay area threatened it with a challenge to its license. So the station created three minority summer internships, and filled them with a student from San Jose State, another from Berkeley -- and me. Today, the guy from Berkeley is a CBS correspondent. The guy from San Jose State is a producer.

And I'm here.

And that's why I say we are the beneficiaries of those courageous people like Julian Bond who decided that it was unacceptable in America to deny opportunity to people based on the color of their skin.

Well, today, we're in the middle of another revolution.

It is not a revolution fought with bullets or even with picket signs.

But it is transforming the way people write, think, gather information, work -- and communicate with each other.

You see this revolution in the workplace, where six out of every ten new jobs are computer-related.

You see it in the home -- four out of every 10 homes have a PC.

You see it on the street when every second person walking down the street seems to have a cell phone the size of a wallet pressed to the ear.

Skilled labor today requires the ability to use computers and telecommunications. Telecommunications is now 14% of the economy -- and growing. The United States will need 1.3 million new workers in information technology over the next eight years. We're going to need 95,000 new computer scientists, analysts and programmers each year.

How do we make sure the Information Highway has on-ramps and off-ramps into every neighborhood? How do we avoid creating a country of information haves and have-nots? How do we make sure this revolution in communications helps people not just in Montgomery County but also in downtown Baltimore?

Because, let's face it. That's not happening right now.

Not when 78% of schools in affluent communities have Internet access -- but only half the schools in low-income areas have access.

Not when the percentage of white children with home computers is triple the percentage of black and Latino kids.

This is what I call the digital divide.

If we can't bridge that digital divide, it will separate Americans when they most need to be brought together.

Conquering the digital divide is one of our most compelling civil rights issues for the twenty-first century.

How do we do that?

The key is access. Universal access.

In the first part of this century, access to modern telecommunications technology meant a phone in every town. When you got a call, someone would come to your home with a note, and you could go down to get the call.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, access means making sure that every American can, at the very least, get access to the Internet in our country's classrooms, libraries and rural health clinics. Of course, its even better if the Internet is available at home, but at a time when 75% of African-American high school and college students do not

have a PC at home, we must make sure access is at least available in the classroom and in the library.

After all, for kids, the digital divide is a chasm when it comes to the home. What's profoundly disturbing is how deep the division is at school and in libraries.

But today, only 5% of minority classrooms are hooked up to the Internet.

And while the volunteer efforts to wire schools are great, they aren't enough. NetDay '96, for example -- the California program aimed at wiring the state's 13,000 schools for access to the Internet -- failed to reach poor schools in Los Angeles.

We have to guarantee ready access to communication technology for everyone. We need to make sure all Americans can get onto the on-ramp of the Information Highway -- because that's the on-ramp to opportunity.

And we have a way to do that: the Universal Service Discount Fund. As part of the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress defined universal service to include not just ubiquitous voice telephone service, but also advanced telecommunications and information services, like the Internet, to all public and private schools, classrooms and libraries. It allows all schools and libraries to buy the tools to make this affordable.

But this program is under attack.

Some are suggesting that we only should support the cost of telecommunications service to the school, and none of the costs of actually connecting the classrooms. They argue that if we didn't fund connections to the classrooms, we could avoid investing $1.3 billion this year.

But let's look at those numbers more closely. It is true that of the estimated $2 billion in universal service support for connecting classrooms and libraries, about two-thirds -- $1.3 billion -- is for the connections from the front of the school to the classrooms. But within that funding for internal connections, more than half would go toward connecting classrooms in this country's poorest areas. Almost $750 million is just for connecting the classrooms in public and private schools where 50 to 100 % of the kids are poor enough to be eligible the federal school lunch program.

So who are the big losers if we don't support internal connections to the classrooms -- poor kids in our most distressed inner city and rural areas. Ironically, if we were to provide universal service support only for telecommunications services, but not for the networks to connect the classrooms within the school, we would end up giving universal service support to more well-to-do areas that already have connections, while denying support to our poorest schools and libraries until they somehow otherwise became wired.

We simply can't go down this path: the information haves would become have-mores, and the have-nots will become have-nones.

It is important to remember exactly what is at stake: today's kids and our country's future.

A few months ago I went to visit a school up in Donald Payne's District, in Newark, New Jersey. I sat for a while with a kid named John who was about nine. He'd never been on the Internet.

So I showed him how to do it. We found a Website about Martin Luther King, Jr. And afterward I asked him what he thought.

"It's more fun than books," he said.

Well, I don't want kids abandoning books. But I walked away thinking: that's what kids need. All kids.

And it's not just John. All you have to do is watch how much time kids spend playing video games to know that truly effective multimedia tools can revolutionize education.

And let me tell you another story. There is a high school in San Jose, California. Its students are majority minority, and majority first generation English speakers. It had what are all too common problems: it was hard to get kids to come to school, and when they graduated, if at all, with few job prospects.

A few years ago, a group of high-tech companies from nearby Silicon Valley wired the whole school -- connecting the classrooms and setting up an internal network that connected to the Internet. They trained the kids to operate and maintain the network. And the kids learned how to train each other.

An interesting thing happened. Instead of cajoling kids to come to school, they had to get them to go home in the evening. And instead of having dim prospects after high school, these kids graduated and took high paying jobs as network administrators. Skilled labor.

These doors to opportunity can be opened to all our youth across the country. But these doors will not be opened unless the schools have internal networks connecting classrooms.

The good news is that this is an issue on which there is no Left or Right, just moving forward or moving backwards. President Clinton and Vice President Gore have challenged this country to wire all schools to the Internet by the year 2000. And Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently said, "I think we want a universal access information system and a

universal access Internet....Inner city areas are as technologically isolated as most parts of rural America in terms of their practical ability to get services."

So I'm here today to ask you to join me in this fight to keep moving forward. Fight for the right of John and many other kids like him to have access to the best of modern technology -- and to a lifetime of better opportunities. Let's make this a reality.

As the NAACP conducts its review of the telecom industry, there are other areas I hope you scrutinize as well. Carefully.

We must all continue to look for new ways to create opportunity. We must root out discrimination. We must continue to push to make sure that all qualified individuals get a chance to land jobs, not just the best-connected.

That's why I was so disappointed when the D.C. Circuit last month held the FCC rules on equal employment opportunity unconstitutional. Those rules required broadcasters to make an effort to conduct an inclusive search. Inclusive searches are the foundation of equal opportunity. If you don't know about the job, it's hard to apply.

We must also be forward-looking to find opportunities. We must conduct outreach. Too often, the search for opportunities for minorities and women begins and ends with discussions of broadcast ownership. But the real growth in communications is not in broadcast, but in wireless, competitive local exchange, and the Internet. Especially the Internet.

And I believe there is opportunity in all these areas for African-Americans.

I believe we can erase the digital divide in the decade ahead.

You know, a few weeks ago, I was impressed by a story I saw about Sandra Day O'Connor.

She was talking about how happy she was when Ruth Ginsberg joined the Supreme Court.

Now, if you follow their decisions, that might seem odd. They don't think very much alike.

But Justice O'Connor was talking about her pioneering role as first woman on the court. And she said, "Just as important as being the first, is to not be the last."

At a lunch like this, there are so many pioneers.

Julian Bond was a pioneer when he sat in the Georgia Legislature -- and when he was nominated for Vice President of the United States.

Kweisi Mfume was a pioneer in Congress, bringing his powerful voice for social justice to the corridors of power...forging opportunities for the disenfranchised in our society.

This organization has been a pioneer ever since it was organized, whether fighting to allow African-Americans in the Armed Forces or in the schools, or in the neighborhoods or in the lunch counters.

I'm happy to be among those who have helped blaze the trail.

With the work we can do together, we can create opportunity for the next generation of Americans.

Thank you.

- FCC -